6 Ways to Use Emotional Storytelling as a Marketing Strategy

couple holding hands

Our life is a collection of stories. Our stories reveal who we were in the past, who we are today and who we aspire to be in the future. They reflect our beliefs, our values and the way we see ourselves and the world. They make us connect emotionally with other people, whether we’re on a first date or getting to know a new friend.

In the same way, stories can also aid brands in connecting with their audience on an emotional level. Stories create interest in the brand, foster its relationship with its audience and help it gain trust from its customers. Emotional branding – by way of storytelling – is an advanced marketing strategy which can help both in sales and in customer retention.

Telling stories to sell products has always been a major part of advertising; but in recent years it has steadily been replacing direct marketing. Today, more than ever, people are interested in the story behind the brand and develop strong preferences for certain brands depending on the stories they’re telling.

Andy Maslen, author of Persuasive Copywriting: Using Psychology to Engage, Influence and Sell, ties this phenomenon to globalization. According to him, ““The best ad campaigns have always led with stories, but the rise of globalization has led to increasingly abstract, conceptual or image-driven advertising where the idea is paramount, and the brand… is pushed firmly into the background.”

The following infographic from Play Network, illustrates this point:

Play Network Storytelling InfographicEvidence shows that emotion plays a large part in consumers’ purchasing behavior. In an article published in Psychology Today in 2013 by Peter Noel Murray, Ph.D., he mentions several findings from research done on the subject:

  • The emotional response triggered by an advertisement has a larger influence on the consumer’s intent to purchase the product than the content of the advertisement (the ratio is 3:1 in TV commercials, ans 2:1 in print ads).
  • fMRI imagery of the brain shows that when assessing a certain brand, consumers rely more on their emotions (personal experiences and feelings) than on information (brand attributes, facts, and features).
  • Likeability is the most predictive measure in predicting whether an advertisement will increase a brand’s sales
  • Positive emotions have a larger influence on the customer’s loyalty than judgments based on the brand’s attributes, like trust.

Storytelling is highly effective in social media marketing

One place where emotional branding by storytelling has been hugely successful is on social media. This makes sense as both emotional branding and social media emphasize connecting people, strengthening relationships and giving inspiration to others. On social media, brands become our friends, just like people do. By following a brand on social media we’ll receive constant reminders of its existence (a heartwarming video, a funny post, etc.). The more positive these interactions are, the better relationship the brand will build with us.

The explosion in the number of social networks in the past few years and the rise in their popularity make for excellent opportunities of storytelling. People on social media use their profiles to create a certain image and share content which fosters this image and aligns with their values. Thus, a brand which is telling a emotional story on social media, which illustrates certain values, is doing the right thing; people who have been moved by this story and share its values will like it, share it or comment on it (sometimes all three). This is how posts by brands can go viral.

In 2013, GoPro (the famed action cameras manufacturer) posted a video on social media showing a fireman saving a kitten from a burning building. Within a week, GoPro’s video had reached nearly 63,000 shares. It was so powerful that even when another Facebook page, World’s Best GoPro Videos, re-posted it in 2015, it got 1745 likes and 1320 shares:

GoPro Fireman Saves Kitten

Watch the video:

6 types of stories you can tell

To use storytelling as a marketing strategy, it’s important to match the type of story you’re using to the message you want to convey. Here are 6 types of stories you can use and example of how brands are using them.

1. We care about the issues you care about

Shared values connect people. If your brand is promoting a a certain cause (animal rights, helping the poor, fighting racism) – you can formulate a story worth telling; a story which your clients would like to tell others, too.

On June 26th, 2015, YouTube did just that. That was the day when the US Supreme Court ruled that states must allow same-sex marriages. In response, YouTube created a video showing clips from people’s coming out videos and the moments in history leading to the Supreme Court’s decision:

2. We get you

Being understood, noticed and appreciated are universal needs. If you tell a story that shows that you deeply understand your clients and see them for who they are – you can help them feel better connected to your brand.

Dove, the personal care brand, has been doing an exemplary job of using this strategy. In the past few years it has been focusing on telling the story of real, average-looking women: their experiences and their struggles in world where the feminine beauty ideal is tall, toned and skinny. In its campaigns, Dove strives to strengthen women’s positive body image by telling empowering stories. It’s no wonder their videos became viral – these issues speak to the majority of women around the globe.

One of Dove’s latest commercials, “Choose Beautiful”, aired in April 2015, has become an instant hit: just over a year later, it boast nearly 7.5 million views.

3. We can make your life easier

Another story you can tell is about the challenges we all face daily – and the way to solve them. In this minimalist video from 2009, Google shows how its search engine can help us in finding a university abroad, settling into the new place, meeting new people, and… no more spoilers, just watch it:

4. We know what you’re going through

Successful as we may be, we often find ways to beat ourselves up about our failures and mistakes. That’s why it’s so important that we have friends who understand what we’re going through and cheer us up by sharing their stories. Having kids is a classic example of a situation where we’re certain we’re doing everything wrong. In March 2015, Extra Space Storage, an American manufacturer of storage units, created a video to which all new parents can relate. So far, it has reached nearly 2 million views on YouTube:

5. We see your aspirations

We all have aspirations and goals, but many of us often feel like we can’t see the finishing line. Whether this goal may be completing our studies, adopting a new habit or succeeding in a new job, we feel afraid and hesitant; and we might imagine that we’re progressing too slowly, or not progressing at all. To motivate us and make us feel better, what brands often do is tell an inspiring story about overcoming these struggles. This 2006 commercial from Saga Falabella, a womenswear brand from Peru, is a great example:

6. We celebrate your uniqueness

Sometimes we may feel like the black sheep of the family, or the odd one out among our friends, just because we do things differently – we have a strange hobby, our job is unusual or we have different beliefs or ideologies than those of other people. Sometimes, this difference becomes a burden – until we’re reminded that the path we’ve chosen is the one that’s best for us.

In 2013, Dr. Pepper created  a series of commercials called “/1” (or “one of one”) conveying the message that every person is not one of millions, but one of one. The videos portrayed unique people who are successful at what they do:


Did you tear up watching these videos? Did they make you smile? This alone can make you understand the power of emotional storytelling in branding – and how it may reach far beyond the brand’s original purpose of marketing.

Are you familiar with any other brands using emotional storytelling as a marketing strategy? We’d love to hear about them in our comment section!

Dafna Ben-Yehoshua

Hi, I'm Dafna Ben-Yehoshua, Content Manager at 3 Door Digital. After completing my M. Sc. in Biology, and trying out various occupations from being a zoo guide to working as an English teacher, I decided to settle on writing. I believe that any subject can be written about in a creative, fascinating manner while bringing into it the writer's unique point of view. My greatest joy in writing is seeing how something I write exposes the readers to new ideas and perspectives.

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